December 31, 2007

New Year's Eve in Montserrat

It took us two metro lines, a light rail train ride, a hike along the highway causing several bruises and a mountain-hugging tram ride totalling nearly three hours to get to Montserrat Spain and believe me, we earned the rewards. At the top of this remote mountain was a monestary, a Shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat, breath-taking views and some really good chow.

The image with the river is from the start of our journey which began with us getting off at the wrong train stop. The only option was to take a air tram up to the mountain. Despite Julie's greatest efforts I didn't go for it. Instead we walked along the highway to the town of Montserrat. Looking back on this leg of the journey it helped us appreciate the journey of pilgrims who have visited this site since the 12th century.

During the tram ride up the mountain Julie described the view as being like the Grand Canyon. I was busy looking at the side of the mountain (NLP therapy does not seem to have helped - but may have made fear of heights worse).
The top of the mountain was very much like a scene from Arizona - except of course for the monestary.

It was amazing to see the quality of the materials and craftsmanship that went into creating the cathedral. The mountain poked out from behind the buildings. At times it felt like the buildings blended with the landscape and other times they appeared to be in great contrast.

In the monestary was a room with items from people who were ill but had found their salvation/recovery at the mountain. It was a strange collection of things - from baby clothes to plastic legs and crutches.

Julie bravely went up on the final furnicular to the top top of the mountain. It was a steep climb - 65 degrees.

How in the world are we going to find energy to do anything tonight for NYE? It is 8.07pm and apparently people don't start to party until 1am. Perhaps we'll celebrate at 9am on NY Day with our California friends and family.

December 30, 2007

Bus Tour of Barcelona

The best way to start a city visit is to take the double decker bus tour. Sure, it feels uber touristy at first but when you're crusing along in the front seat on the top deck, wind in your hair, sun on your shoulders, something special happens. Suddenly being a tourist is OK.

What impressed me the most was the creative architecture, old and new buildings beautifully blended and the impact of the 1992 olympics. We concluded our bus tour at The Montajuc which means Mountain of the Jews Julie informed us. This is the site of the Olympic games and ceremonies. Julie took a ski lift monorail thing up to the Castle which sits on top. Stephen and I hiked it. Views from the top were amazing.

Stephen and his new friend take turns on a zippy swing in the olympic park/botanical gardens.

We ended the day with a Spanish Guitary concert at Basílica de Santa Maria del Pi featuring Manuel Gonzalez.

December 29, 2007

Barcelona Dining

We arrived earlier this afternoon in Barcelona. What an amazing city. We've only been here six hours and we've already enjoyed two full meals. The cuisine is delicious. Paella, chorizo, sangria and roasted veg of all sots.

Tomorrow we're taking the hop-on-hop-off bus around the city. Photos to come.

For those of you who are interested in my spelling "issues" I'm having a fun time using the spell check on this computer - all in Spanish.

December 28, 2007

Barcelona for NYE

Stephen and I are back in London for a brief laundry break and then we're meeting our cousin Julie in Barcelona tomorrw afternoon. She's already there - started her 18 hour journey yesterday from San Francisco. Hoping to get photos posted while on our trip.

December 25, 2007

Cramond on Christmas

This morning, in preparation for the day-long feast of Christmas with my in-laws I took a long walk down to Cramond outside of Edinburgh. If I recall correctly I did the same thing last year so this is becoming a Amy tradition.

Cramond is a spectacular little area on the River Forth that was the home to a Roman fort. One of the finest pieces of Roman sculpture discovered in Scotland was uncovered in 1997 at the mouth of the Cramond river which spills into the River Forth it is a lioness which is now housed in the National Museum of Scotland.

I was lucky enough to get to Cramond when the tide was low. Out in the middle of the River Forth is Cramond Island and at low tide you can meander out along the causeway. Today was the first occasion that my timing was perfect to make the trek - at least part way as the tide was starting to come in.
The morning was frosty but sunny and clear.

December 23, 2007

Not Watching the English Countryside

Yesterday we took a train from London to Edinburgh. I love taking the train. The travel is so relaxed, space to spread out, beautiful views. Stephen even got us first class tickets. We were going to travel in style.

As we approached our seats I noticed something very frightening. Our windows was blocked. The other two seat occupants, in the four seat box, had placed a wrapped Christmas present - apparently a picture for their daughter - in front of the window. Let's be clear, this is a giant window and it was two thirds blocked by this giant picture. I lost it. How in the world could they be so selfish as to block the window on a 4.5 hour train journey. There are spaces behind the seats that could easily accommodate their picture.

Being American I was fuming to say, "could you please find a different location for that picture?" However, Stephen just ignored it and sat down to read. This was my clue that it is not British to say anything about this utter stupidity. For the first thirty minutes I huffed and puffed with anger. The man finally apologized and said that he was sorry about the picture but it was a gift for his daughter. I suggested that he put it behind the seat and he responded. "No, I don't think so."

I'm currently reading the book Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox. It has helped me understand why the British do not say anything to folks who take the piss such as this couple. Even more helpful, it explains why people do these kinds of things. My interpretation is that it is a daft class thing. The couple thought, "We bought these seats and we get this window and we have this important piece of art to transports and at least we can see through the tiny cracks on each side. You, seat mates, have other windows through which you can gaze." Frankly, I wanted them to pay us 10% of our ticket fee for the loss of view.

At least for the final hour I was able to move to an adjacent empty seat. Now I understand why this is a drinking culture.

December 20, 2007

The gift that didn't keep on giving

Is it customary to get your house cleaner a gift for the holidays? Here in London I would say the answer is the same as in the States - yes. Well, I got a nice gift card voucher for our cleaner and wrote her a nice little note and put it on top of a nice little box of chocolates. However, when I got home it was still sitting there on our nice clean counter. She was here - I can tell - but she left the card and chocolates.

I moved her card and chocolates and a little note slipped out - "sorry, please, cleaner" it said. Then I noticed that the envelope was taped back up. Did I insult her? Here's a major confession - I don't even know her name. Perhaps "Thank you for cleaning our home lovely" is a bit too anonymous? Oy. Who doesn't like chocolates? Oh yea, me.

December 19, 2007

4 OD

We've been without TV for about a month now and I'll admit that I miss it. Having spent the past four days sick in bed I've discovered TV on demand. Channel 4 and BBC offer free TV programs online for up to a month after they were broadcast. Channel 4 calls it 4 OD (4 On Demand) and let me tell you - I have officially ODed. My legs ache from acting as a TV stand for the laptop. I've lost peripheral vision from staring straight ahead for hours. But you know what? I'm loving it. TV, welcome home.

Do I really have to go back to work?

December 18, 2007

Cold in London

Poor us. Stephen and I have had two weeks of cold and flu. Stephen got hit first and I followed a few days later. Each of us has had different symptoms so I think we aren't suffering from the same bug. Then again, it could just be our different styles of being sick.

Stephen being sick:
Fester unwashed in bed for days. Read or listen to Lord of the Rings trilogy. Barely eat or drink. Take no medications.

Amy being sick:
Constantly repeat, "I am so sick, I am so sick..." even if home alone. Drink gallons of tea, throw used tissues all over the bed and floor, make a daily trip to the store and regret it later, continuously lubricate nose with Clinique products, smother neck with tiger balm, shower for 30 minutes mid-day, and take cold medications.

I would say that Stephen has the Scottish approach while I use the US East Coast Jewish techniques. However, what we both lay in bed surfing the internet and watching tv on demand programs. Of course Stephen's will be sports or history and mine will be cooking.

You should be happy to note that I still have not checked any gossip blogs.

December 15, 2007

NLP in Action

So the fear of heights therapy turned out to be Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) in action. It was powerful to experience the exercises that I learned in the NLP course I took this autumn to earn my INLPTA diploma.

It was much easier for me to get into what the therapist was doing instead of over-analysing it if I had been completely unaware of the techniques. I couldn't help wondering if someone with no knowledge of NLP would find the whole thing, well, a bit cheesy. However, I was a customer for change so I went all out.

I have yet to test out the results. The therapist recommends I start with something less challenging than the London Eye. Today I'm suffering from a cold so the test may have to wait a few days. Stay tuned.

December 13, 2007

A Customer for Change

Tomorrow I am seeing a phobia specialist to help me get over my fear of heights. You may recall that last week I went to the Royal Albert Hall to watch a tennis match and the seats gave me a huge scare as they were so high up. Last night I was again at RAH to see Miss Bollywood the Musical and although I sat on the arena floor I could feel the fear creeping in when I looked up at the ceiling.

Enough is enough. As we learned in my coaching course - you need a "customer for change" if you want to ensure that someone is committed to adjusting their behaviour. Yes, I am committed, willing and able.

I hope to be able to say here in the next few days that I am no longer afraid of heights. Stay tuned.

December 12, 2007

Miss Bollywood the Musical

Dazzled. That's all I can say. Dazzled. Just got back from Miss Bollywood the Musical and my heart is still pumping. I was lucky enough to get front row seats for the performance at Royal Albert Hall. What a seat. Because I went solo (do you think I would submit anyone else to an over-the-top musical?) I was able to get the last seat in the row. It was fantastic!

I could see the actors' expressions, see the details in the costumes and even get to dance with one of the dancers when they came down into the audience for the final scene. My dancer tried to get the two people next to me to dance. I reached out and I'm sure he thought, "can she dance?" well yes! I showed them. I went for a full two minutes of rocking dancing.

The performance featured Shilpa Shetty who was already one of my favorite stars. She proved to herself to be a loving person when she won Celebrity Big Brother last year despite the horrible bullying she received from other housemates because she is Indian. Shilpa proved herself to be a loving and forgiving person and it was apparent from her presence on stage tonight.

At intermission I saw a bracelet on the floor - a piece of costume from the show. I picked it up and placed it in my pocket. On stage it was glistening and off stage it was just a simple piece of plastic jewelry. That was the magic of the show - spectacle and event.

December 11, 2007

What's Driving Avenue Q?

Last night Marlene and I "took in a bit of theatre" and went to see Avenue Q on London's West End. For years I've been hearing about how this show is funny, racy and radical. Of course the offer of half price tickets further convinced me that it was the show for us!

Little did we know that we had signed up to see a musical - Marlene thought it was going to be a drama and I don't know what I was expecting. When we arrived the theatre lobby was filled with groups of nervous 12-year-olds. That was the second sign that this would be something other than what we'd expected.

The humor was about at the level of a 16-year-old but the cultural references were more targeted towards the 24-34ers and then the Sesame Street/Muppet component was definitely nostalgic for the 35-45ers. Unfortunately it missed hitting all groups. Plus, it was very American and the crowd was definitely British.

Marlene assessed that the whole thing could be improved by chopping it down to a 20 minute short play. I would go so far as to say it was shallow, racist, negative and immature (not in a ha ha kind of way) and needed some serious direction.

The cool bit was the use of puppets and the collaborative approach the actors used to expertly bring them to life. There was also a promising scene about philanthropy which unfortunately ended in a joke that undermined all the good associations. You just had to wonder if the actors were thinking, "we're paying our dues with this show."

December 9, 2007

Taking a Roman Bath

My sister Marlene is visiting from DC and we've been touring in the rain. Yesterday we took the rain tour to an extreme with our visit to Bath, England with the London Walking Tours. The city instantly won me over as we began our tour next to the canal. Although the air was cold and we were already drenched from the rain, the warm water from the hot springs warmed the canal and sent up a hot breeze.

The city feels very ancient and European. Despite being a popular tourist spot and having its over-fill of cheesy shops our tour guide Simone transported us back in history with his explanation of Bath's roman roots and Victorian history.

There are three sources of hot springs that bubble up to surface level. One is encased in a small Victorian bath house. Another, directly across the street, is now the healing water source for a luxury spa and the final spring flows into the restored Roman Baths. The Roman Bath Museum is one of the most spectacular museums I've ever visited. It is highly interactive, ruins are carefully preserved and it is still very much alive. Water still flows from the spring through Roman pipes and fills the restored pool.

Photo 1: Royal Crescent with the ha-ha wall to keep the sheep out of the gardens

Photo 2: Roman Baths

Photo 3: The 2000 year old Roman piping still carrying the spring water - it is 115 degrees!

December 4, 2007

Fear of Heights

It doesn't happen too often but when it does my fear of heights puts a damper on whatever fun we are having. The fear has been there for a long time but the intensity comes in waves and they seem to be getting worse. In recent years it hit hard in San Francisco when I was riding my bike across the Golden Gate Bridge and also driving my car up those curvy hills. I felt like I was attached to the bike or the car and it was going to flip over.

Last year there were two occasions when I became the "crazy women we saw while we were on holiday in Europe" on the London Eye and the Eiffel Tower. Tonight it happened again. We went to the Royal Albert Hall to see the Blackrock Masters Tennis and our seats were against the back wall on the top row. I could only imagine that either the ceiling was going to come down on me or I was going to suddenly fly out from the wall and fall. Not logical, I realise that.

The super weird thing is that we were one section higher a few weeks ago when we went to see Carmina Burana. I think the difference there was that the ceiling was quite close in the balcony - not the dome part but the side of the building. Plus, there was a railing all around the edge and we were sitting on the floor (cheap seats). Tonight I had to scoot past folks, including my friend Hidy was also freaking out about the height. Then I walked on my knees to the stairs and walked down on my rear. Believe me, it was embarrassing, especially when someone said, "Amy, do you have vertigo?" Blah.

I've got to get over this and am going to try getting help. Perhaps hypnotherapy? I'm not sure. I've made a promise to myself that tomorrow I will make an appointment at a therapist my friend has recommended.

The part that really breaks my heart is poor Stephen who really feels for me and wants me to enjoy what we are doing and instead we are both distracted by my anxiety attack. I feel much better after going to Whole Foods, buying Indian food and eating rice pudding.

December 2, 2007

Leisure Rules

A few weeks ago our giant tv died. Stephen can't figure out what went wrong. It has sound but no picture. It can't be the picture tube because it doesn't have one. We went a few days without tv and then Stephen came up with a new solution. He purchased some kind of utility that allows him to watch tv on his laptop.

The best part of the setup is that he now lounges on the couch, watching tv (in super slow motion) on the laptop and uses his, yes, remote control, to change the channels. It cracks me up. The tv is a laptop, how far is it from his hand? Today he had to reach for the remote control which was the same distance (3 inches) as the laptop.

In this palace leisure rules.

Permission from Stephen to post this photo.

The Darjeeling Limited

Get your ticket and run to see The Darjeeling Limited.
This is a beautifully crafted film that leaves you feeling, well, satisfied. Every shot is thoughtfully composed as the script unravels the story of three brothers on an emotional and spiritual journey. Many surprises in this ensemble cast.
The film is both somber and uplifting which is a delicate balance to maintain and here it is successful. The story and images are framed in the colors, flavors and fragrances of India.

Jason Schwartzman, left, Adrien Brody, center, and Owen Wilson are shown in a scene from "The Darjeeling Limited." Photo: AP

November 30, 2007

Limitations of Technology

Okay, trying to communicate verbally via the internet is really not a reliable way to stay in touch with family and friends. I've been trying to conduct coaching sessions with friends and family to get practice on my new coaching skills and every time something really frustrating has occurred. Skype has died numerous times mid-conversation and now my vonage phone isn't working and I can't get my email account to come up.

I miss face-to-face conversations and old school telephone landlines.

Geni Family Tree

Build it and they will come. That's my mantra for creating a family tree. Lori, the same friend mention in the previous post, alerted me to the website which is a utility for creating your family tree. I've started creating the tree and it shows me who from my address book is also registered on the site. Some family members are already using it - are my siblings secretly building a family tree house in the virtual backyard?

November 29, 2007

Nostalgic for Stamford

My friend Lori sent out an email to her friends listing all the things that she misses about Stamford, CT from yester-year. It spurred a flurry of emaling activity. Since I have many Stamford readers (I can only assume) she has given me permission to share the list. Please add some of your own in the comments section.

Bedford Records
The Horsey rides in front of Sears in Ridgeway.
Gimbels,Card Coop, Party Palace,Caldors, Woolworths, JC Penny
Pants And...and a store called Countdown for fabulous striped shirts, also in the shopping center that's now the Sheraton.
Buying an Album for $6.99 at Record World in the mall.
Bramberts 5&10
Remember the jeep in front of Banana Republic?
When Abercrombie & Fitch was a geeky store
Palmer's grocery store on Hope Street.
Franklyn and Simon clothing store playing with the toys at (where bed and bath used to be on high ridge)
B&G store at the town and country shopping center
B&G (now Planet TV)
Shoe store on Bedford street where you could ride the mini carousel.
Pottery Barn next to Brock's
Art Explosion in the mall (I think they used to have dirty cards in the back)
Andrea's Craft Center on High Ridge (that's where my favorite birthday party was)
Ticket Tron outlet
Putnam Deb. They had a fish tank and a cool area in the back that looked like a space ship!
2 different kids clothing stores - 1 in the Newfield shopping center near Cerbones and the other was on Bedford street (I think), where you earned points with your purchases that could be redeemed for toys
Shoe store in the Friendly shopping center where you could choose either a red or blue Nike swoosh and then when Velcro became an option
Sears in the Ridgeway shopping center
The way Ridgeway used to be with Gimbles, 40 Boutiques and Baskin Robbins
Sols Toys Store, before it became Baby & Toy Superstore
Having Bloomingdales in Stamford

When King and Low Heywood were separate schools and not coed.
When Willard Convalescent Home was Willard elementary school
When Trinity Catholic was called Catholic High.
UCONN Branch on Scofield Town Road
When Rippowam was a high school the 1st and 2nd times
Westhill Halloween parade around the horrible blacktop track
Westhill pep rallies getting canceled due to rumors of rumbles
Riverbank Elementary School in North Stamford (now the Mead School)
The entrance to Westhill from the Southbound side of Long Ridge.
The first Bi-Cultural Day School behind Agudath Shalom
The student parking lot that was in front of Westhill

Cove Beach before landscaping
When Summer Street and Bedford Street became One way roads.
The Korean War memorial on that property was a rotting piece of wood with a few names on it- now much more respecful.
The old train station
Before the Sheraton Hotel on Summer Street there was a shopping center
The "nature center" was better known as The Stamford Museum
Camp Jaycee on Briar Brae Road
The rated X movie theater and the prostitutes that used to hang around
The hotel on summer street kept changing names Hotel Stamford Plaza, the Tara, The Westin
Before the Stamford Town Center.
The old Turn of River library on High Ridge Road, with the little attached house in the back for the kids room / and having to use the card catalog to look things up
Ice skating at Landmark and then eating at The Ground Round
Before there was a traffic light on Vine Road by the entrance to TOR - and you could speed down Vine from Newfield all the way to High ridge
Lord & Taylor parking lot as make-out spot
The horse stable on Newfield Ave. across from King School.
After the skating rink closed- Stamford had a giant Christamas tree in that spot for a few years.
When the cool thing to do was drive laps around the parking loop outside Friendly's. Then, when the cops cracked down- we all moved across the street to Burger King parking lot- not as glamorous.
Hanging out at West Beach after track meets (because there was nowhere else to go except Friendly's & Burger King parking lots)
When Scofield Town Park had a pool set up in the summers- 2 feet deep.
Greenwich Avenue, anyone? all the local normal stores (Marks Bros., Caldor) replaced by upscale chains
When there was a Methodist church right off of exit 33 - it burned down.
All the old Victorian houses on Summer street - before they got knocked down
St. Joseph's hospital
When Motor Vehicles was downtown on Magee Avenue.
Does anyone else remember when Summer street was paved with Cobblestone?
When Brennan Golf Course was called Hubbard Height
Noelle's where Kinkos in now (actually I think where supercuts is)
The first JCC - where the Yeshiva is now
The first JCC on Newfield - a little house by the duck pond
Olin Corps headquaters on Long Ridge Road
When there was ugly oil tanks down past Crabshell restaurant - where the Avalon apartments are now.

The "open door" (sabias)
Mustard's restaurant next to the movie theater at Landmark
The Sitting Room - now Bull's Head Diner
Fried chicken from Redi Rooster, nothing else like it!
Star Confections, which was an old fashioned soda shop across from the Mall, now an Avalon project
Haagen Daas Ice Cream at the entrance to Landmark
Dimitri from the Century Dinner on summer street.
The Japanese hibachi restaurant on Main Street in what was then a "bad" section of town magic shows at burger king
Allens deli on high ridge
When Mario the Baker shared it's building with a tailor and was only 1/2 it's size
Colony pizza
When we had South Pacific chinese on High Ridge (where Kinko's is) Also at one point Hunan Garden and when someone got shot there.
South Pacific had those light fixtures made out of blowfish.
The Farm Shop
Mayflower Deli in the Town & Country Shopping Center (now Sheraton Hotel
Liz Sue bagels was the ONLY bagel shop in town
Country diner (which is now parkway diner) had jukeboxes at very table
The Quarter Deck, then Sunrise Pizza, now Fio's
Friendly's BEFORE it got renovated.
Eating at the lunch counter at Woolworth's on Hope Street
Brock's and the famous salad bar
Remember when Chimney Corners was a restaurant? They had the best popovers!
The restaurant 19 March street
When Baskin Robbins burned down next to Ready Rooster and all I could imagine was the bubblegum ice cream blowing giant bubbles
Ben and Jerry's in the Newfield Shopping Center

The Pink Tent Festival
When Springdale Volunteer Fire Dept used to have a parade down Hope Street.
Stamford Thanksgiving parade pre balloons--and marching in it with the Cloonan band MISC.
"the Moonies"?
Listening for school closings on WSTC when 1400 WSTC AM was a locally owned and operated radio station with its studios on Prospect street ( now it is corporately owned and the studio is is Norwalk)
There were 2 other supermarkets on high ridge besides A&P, shopwell and grand central Ridgeway movie theater
The murder in the Bloomingdales parking lot
The Teen Life Center
When the park on Scofieldtown Road was a dump?
Arnie's Place - arcade in Westport
Old McDonald's Farm - amusement park in Norwalk

November 25, 2007

Photo Expedition

Instead of buying holiday cards Stephen and I are making our own this year. Last night we took a photo expedition along the River Thames to get "that perfect shot" for the front of the card. Luckily it was not too cold, wet or windy (a little of each). Stephen was the location scout and I was the photographer. check out some of the images.

November 23, 2007

Results of British Gas Tech vs. Amy Poll

The grand conclusion is that 62% of you think that the situation with British Gas will never end. Well, I happen to agree.

A new wrinkle in the plot. Last night water started pouring into our guest room, through the lights, from the flat above. Our upstairs neighbours were doing their laundry - same as always. So far I've not seen any damage.

Building a recipe list

On the right side of the blog I am going to start a recipe link. It is starting as soups but may evolve over time. If you have a particular recipe you would like to recommend please list the link in the comments.

The next edition to the list my friend Renaissance Creatrix's inventive Cantaloupe Soup.

Thanksgiving Across the Pond

Stephen and I made a spectacular Thanksgiving in London last night. We invited over a friend from my work and his partner. Adam is half American, half English and Tabitha is all English so we had a two and a half British and one and a half Americans. Pretty much the current exchange rate.

Even though there was no rush here for shopping I felt the same got-to-get-to-the-store anxiety that you get in the States when preparing the menu. It must just be part of Thanksgiving. We rarely entertain so I had to pick up some essentials such as napkins, placemats, a Pyrex dish and even some water glasses. Thanks to Woolworths it was no great expense.

Here's our menu:

Rack of Lamb - Stephen prepared
Quinoa stuffing - made with quinoa bread, everyone thought it was cornbread! (photo on right)
Roasted butternut squash and sweet potatoes with dried fruit and maple syrup - yum
Minted peas - a bit of a British twist on the meal
Cranberry sauce - for colour
Smashed potatoes - my first attempt
Gravy - from a mix, I admit
Baked apples - studded with cloves and spiked with a Cinnamon stick, sweetened with honey - yum
Chocolate truffles - thanks to our guests

The best part of the meal was how excited Adam and Tabitha were to celebrate their first Thanksgiving. Plus, they kept saying how fantastic everything tasted. Guests like these are always welcome again.

November 20, 2007

Warm Smoothie

Could these the little hats be any cuter? I had to hold back and not buy them all.

The hats are part of the Innocent Smoothie fundraiser called The Big Knit which is in partnership with Sainsbury's. Each hat is handmade and if you purchase a smoothie with a hat 50p (=$1) goes to Age Concern, the UK's largest charity working with and for older people.

I highly recommend checking out The Big Knit link above as there are amazing photos and videos on the site.

November 18, 2007

Go ahead, ask me what I do

I've evolved my career description to:

International nonprofit business development consultant and leadership coach

Simone says it is too long but it is what I am. Notice arts and culture has slipped away. Interesting. I was reflecting on my Linked In title and realised that I have evolved beyond Arts & Culture Management Consultant. Feeling really good about the evolution.

British Gas Fan

Okay, whose the wiseguy that voted for the British Gas Tech winning spy vs. spy? Have you gone to the dark side?

Update: no call back from British Gas after the fifth missed appointment. See, I'm still winning.

Sharing soup recipes

My mom inspired me to share soup recipes.

Here's a link to Mom's Fresh Pea Soup St. Germain
A link to my Potato Leek Soup

Either post your favorite recipes in the comments, email them to me and let me know if it is OK to post or post a link to your blog/website recipes.

Let's get souping!

November 16, 2007

Potato Leek Soup recipe

My mom requested a copy of this recipe. I made it last week. Tasted good to me. Stephen said, "good effort" which I'm not sure how to interpret. Well, it tasted good to me.

Mom and Marlene - note that the version I sent you has garlic twice. This version is correct.

Olive Oil - 2 tablespoons
Garlic - 1 clove grated or 1/2 teaspoon of dried
Leek - two good sized ones - 1 lb (pound)
Potatoes - two good sized ones - 1 lb (pound)
4 cups chicken or veg broth
Fresh ground pepper - 1/4 teaspoon
Shredded ginger - 2 tablespoons
Bay leave - 2

1. Clean leaks and potatoes (skin or skinless – up to you) and chop into small pieces.
2. Heat olive oil in sauce pan.
3. Cook leeks for 3-5 minutes, stirring.
4. Add potatoes and stir frequently. Keep heat on medium to avoid sticking.
5. Add broth, garlic, pepper, ginger and bay leaves.
6. Cook until potatoes are translucent.
7. Remove bay leaves.
8. Option to puree entire soup, part of the soup or leave as is. If you puree part of the soup pour it back into the pot with the un-pureed portion to create a creamy and chunky texture.

November 15, 2007

Social Enterprise Day

Yes, today is Social Enterprise Day, in the UK as declared by the Cabinet Office of the Third Sector.

This will take some translation for most people out there.

The following definitions are from wikipedia:

Social Enterprise: Social enterprises are social mission driven organizations which trade in goods or services for a social purpose. The need to deliver on financial, social and environmental performance targets is often referred to as having a triple bottom line.

Cabinet Office: Social enterprises are social mission driven organizations which trade in goods or services for a social purpose. The need to deliver on financial, social and environmental performance targets is often referred to as having a triple bottom line.

Cabinet Office of the Third Sector: Social enterprises are social mission driven organizations which trade in goods or services for a social purpose. The need to deliver on financial, social and environmental performance targets is often referred to as having a triple bottom line.

To celebrate I attended an event at the National Council for Volunteer Organisations to discuss the impact of social networking technology on the Third Sector and a Social Entrepreneurship panel discussion at the British Library.

The Opening of St Pancras Station

Two of my favorite buildings in London are located next to each other and just a five minute walk from my office in Kings Cross. They are the British Library and St Pancras Station. Yesterday was the re-opening of St Pancras Station after decades of not being used. It is also the new launch point of Eurostar, the railway that can take you to Paris from London in a blink of an eye. In fact, maybe I'll shoot off at lunch time for a mid-day break in France.

Here are photos from yesterday's opening day.

Tonight I am attending a social entrepreneurship event at the British Library. Perhaps we will learn some French secrets to success?

November 14, 2007

Getting ahead of headaches

Yet more on my headache state of mind. As you know I've had these horrible headaches for about six years now and for some reason in the past couple of weeks I've actually made some head-way on figuring out the cause.

Here is a record of my research:

1. September - City of London Migraine Clinic thinks that they could be related to my "overly flexible neck", food or hormonal related.

2. October - Reflexologist thinks that I am "holding my anger in my neck and head".

3. November - Physiotherapist Mike doesn't know what to think but says my neck and upper spine are hard as a rock and that my jaw opens to one side

4. November - I read an article in 13 November 2007 New York Times - A Lineman in my Bed: Teeth Grinding about about sleep bruxism

In 1993 I had Temporo-Mandibular Joint disorder TMJ jaw surgery because my jaw was stuck and wouldn't open. Don't worry, I still managed to get food and I wasn't in any pain. But I think that the pulling of the jaw to one side and the clenching of my teeth in my sleep (I wear a bite plate) have combined to cause these headaches. They are further triggered by wine, sugar and caffeine.

I'm now doing some long-ago prescribed jaw exercises to see if I can stretch the joint and get some blood flowing into that area.

This may be too much information for some people but I hope that it helps someone figure out their headaches and shares the mysterious cure - is there one?

November 13, 2007

British Gas - did he or didn't he

And the answer is... the Tech cancelled again! Appointment 6 done and dusted.

This is like Spy vs Spy.

November 10, 2007

Getting Happy in Photoshop

A little photoshop action. Click on photo to see large version.

Inspired to Photograph

I've been inspired to take out my "real" camera and get back into photography. Most of the photos on the blog are with my mobile phone. These are with my "35mm" SLR digital camera. Just starting to exercise my photo muscles again. Here are some shots from today.

Photo 1
British Library with St Pancras station in the background. Eurostar will start departing from this station on 14 November.

Photo 2:
Baker Street tube station.

November 9, 2007

Me and the British Gas Tech Give it Another Go

I'm admitting here that the British Gas Tech has made yet another date to fix the boiler. Yes, I know I said I was over it all but the customer service guy begged for another go. Supposedly both the Tech and the customer service guy tried to call me all day of the missed appointment but I didn't answer. Supposedly Stephen didn't answer his phone either when they tried calling him. So now they have my email. Yes, the communications are going high tech.

So I'll be home all morning on Tuesday waiting for the Tech to cancel appointment number five. Could this be an Olympic endurance sport? Or is it now a battle of wills?

The added nuance is that the heating pipes are making an extreme rattling noise every fifteen minutes once the heat is turned on. Hardly even notice it now. I was nervous when it happened during our Saturday morning yoga class but everyone must have assumed it was street noise. The only shocker was when the pump feature did its growling during our downward dogs.

November 7, 2007

Long Lost Relatives

In the past month I have made connections with a ton of Kweskins. Mostly we've connected through but some have emailed me directly. I wonder what is pushing us all to connect?

I'm thinking it would be cool to start a Kweskin family tree - maybe a Plotkin one too - both sides of my family. Could easily be a blog. Anyone want to get it started with me?

November 6, 2007

A New Type of Anxiety Dream

Have you ever had an anxiety dream where you are trying to use the to call for help but you can't remember the numbers? Or, maybe you can't push the buttons or the phone is not connected. I have a new tech anxiety dream which I experienced last night - no wifi connection. In my dream I was trying to write and send an email and I kept getting kicked off the network. Then I realised that I was using someones wireless network, not my own.

This reminds me of when I was a professor at University of Houston in 2006 and I had the reverse student anxiety dream. Student anxiety dream is that you forget to attend a course all year and then you show up to take the exam. The professor version is that you forget to teach a course for a year and show up to give the exam.

Presidential Hopes Smashed

CNN reported today that comedian Stephen Colbert has been pulled off the presidential primary ballot in South Carolina, the only state in which he was running for President. Apparently Obama supporters lobbied to have his name removed as there was concern he would pull votes from their shared market.

Here's the article link.

I am of mixed feelings. Yes, it was a joke, but somehow I found it really heartening that Colbert was running and with enthusiasm. There's even a campaigning application on facebook which you can add to your profile page. I liked that people were getting excited.

It somehow lessens Obama in my eyes - that his people were concerned about this competition. He now just seems like any other politician. I liked him because he was one of us - a ReGenXer. But now, he feels like another establishment dude with a big machine behind him.

November 4, 2007

Crack of Dawn

I've started a new weekend morning adventure - bike riding at sunrise in Hyde Park. This morning I encountered the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run and kicking off at Hyde Park Corner. Here are some of the contenders.

November 3, 2007

Frida Kahlo in San Francisco

If you've been following my blog you'll know that I'm a huge fan of Frida Kahlo and have had several unique opportunities to work closely with the Museo Frida Kahlo. With the publication of a new book My Beloved Doctor, which is a bi-lingual printing of letters between Frida and San Francisco-based Dr. Leo Eloesser I have been inspired to create a new blog Frida Kahlo in San Francisco.

I'll find some previously un-published photos I took of the de-installation and packing of her painting that I took in Mexico City in 2005.

November 1, 2007

Smooshed in the City

Ever have one of those days when you feel like the world is pushing in on you? London is like that every day and today was the final push. People are so used to being close to each other and yet ignoring each other that it is a constant feeling of being alone and too crowded at the same time.
On the tube there was plenty of standing room yet a woman rested her back against my shoulder as I stood near the door. Although it was intimate and even a bit cozy it was strange. Why not get your own space?

Leaving Kings Cross station the authorities had yet again closed the gates so people were able to get out via a tiny space and no one could come in. Of course there was a huge backup of people on street level and we had to push our way out. Then the train came in so another flow of folks. One smashed into me and I got a severe case of pedestrian rage. Bastard! Another was about to smash into me and I stomped my foot, pissed.

But it all was better when they were handing out free Kit Kat samples just a few feet away. I don't eat chocolate but I gleefully took a bar and felt like I had earned a gift. Am I being controlled by the State?

October 29, 2007

Sopranos Last Episode Theory

Last night the final episode of the Sopranos was finally aired in the UK. If you haven't seen it please don't read any further as I don't want to be responsible for ruining the end for you.

At first I was really upset with ending and I stormed out of the living room disgusted that we had waited for so long in anticipation of a big conclusion. Stephen commented that at least it was better than the end of Will and Grace. True.

However, because we had watched the first episode (pilot) just an hour earlier I was able to make a grand conclusion that now allows me to sleep without Sopranos Frustration. Here it is...

The first episode begins with Tony starting therapy and discussing the anxiety attack he had after watching the wild ducks fly away from his pool. They had arrived a few weeks earlier, had some ducklings and he lovingly watched them learn to fly and even built a ramp so that they could get in and out of the pool. He got into the water and started talking to them as though they were his friends. But when they finally grow big enough to fly away he passes out.

The therapist says to him, "they were just ducks until they had ducklings and then they became a family." That says it all.

In the final scene of the final episode Tony waits for his family in the diner. First he looks around for them, as he did when looking for the ducks in the woods and then each family member arrives, one at a time just as the ducks flew away one at a time. As Meadow walks into the diner the show goes to black. It is the full circle of his family of ducks leaving and then returning.

Well, it allowed me to sleep peacefully. In fact, I'm sure you can write an entire thesis with this as the theme. There are many times that Tony faces wilderness, friend, foe or even bear at the side of his pool. AJ even tries to drown himself in it in an earlier episode. There is also the time Tony was in a coma and he saw the bushes rustle with the ghosts of his dead relatives - just as the bushes rustled as the ducks emerged to visit him in his pool. The most telling shot of Tony is in one of the final episodes when he sits by his sister's lake house looking out in contemplation. In that episode he looks on lovingly at his niece and how she is encouraged to tentatively dip her toes into the lake. But then her mother, his sister Janice, gets furious with the nanny for allowing the little girl near the water - near family.

Tony's pool is his family circle. At the start of the series his children are leaving him and flying the coop as the ducks did. At the end they return - to the diner, a public pool. He plays the song "Don't Stop Believing" which is actually an optimistic premonition of how his family unit will continue having passed the trials and tribulations of each flying off on their own. They are now back together.

October 27, 2007

Making the connection

I've started a new network on Linked In called American Arts & Culture Managers in UK. If you are interested in joining visit my website and register your interest

The kick-off networking gathering is on 29 November from 7-9pm. It is an Americans for the Arts Creative Conversation and details can be found at

Starting this network has given me a feeling of finally being back on my own two feet after leaving the stability of the US.

October 26, 2007

British Gas is Commitment-phobic

Well yes, the soap opera of our sordid love affair with British Gas continues. Although I think I have now been officially dumped. Perhaps I mentioned that their district supervisor called and told me that we HAD to meet with a technician yet one more time to sort out our boiler's problems. Sounds like divorce court.

Over the past 10 weeks we have scheduled four appointments with British Gas with each one being cancelled last minute as in I am sitting and waiting and they cancel the date.

Today I took the entire day off from work and sat on the couch waiting for my British Gas technician to arrive. Now it is 4.45pm on a Friday and he still hasn't called, written or shown up. No flowers, no notes, no emails, nothing. I've been dumped. What's a girl to do on a Friday when her date has blown her off?

You are reading it here first - my affair with British Gas is over. They can call and beg for another date but I'm done. I'm not going to sit around and cry about it. I'm going to take a shower and go out into the world.

Oh wait, the boiler may explode. Well, I'm okay with that.

Wifi Detector T-Shirt

Every time I check the GeekSugar blog there is something amazing to behold. This time it is the Wifi Detector T-Shirt which lights up when you are in a wifi signal area. How cool is that? I bet if you have braces on your teeth you can probably use your teeth as keys and even send emails without a computer. Receiving could be an issue.

October 25, 2007

Conversations not to have at cocktail parties

Last night I attended a cocktail party at which I was the photographer. In other words, it was a work event and I was the photographer, caterer, intern manager and bartender.

One of the guests stopped me mid-photo to introduce me to his friend. He pointed out that we had a lot in common since we were both from the States. I politely chatted for a few minutes and then began to make my move to return to the photo assignment. However, "introducer" stopped me and said, "you both like photography".

The woman then went into how she would like to raise some funds for a sick child. I commended her on the effort. Then she told that her idea was to do a risque calendar that could be sold for charity. Hum, what could possibly be next? An invite to pose? Guess again, she asked if I would take the photos.

Now how do you respond to that? Well, being the learned diplomat that I am - from years of working in the not-for-profit sector, I was able to think quickly on my feet.

Amy: Well, actually you would need special studio lighting for that to make sure the photos are very flattering. I don't have lights with me here in the UK.

Woman: Oh yes, that makes sense. Well, if I were to look up photographers on the internet would I search under boudoir photos?

Amy: No, no, I would look up environmental portraiture. You want photos that are flattering and taken in a comfortable environment.

Woman: Okay, I see, environmental photos.

Ah yes, never a dull moment.

Beoing Boeing

There is no excuse for living near good theatre and not going. Our friend John suggested that we "take in some theatre" while he was visiting from San Francisco. Using the internet, within five minutes we had tickets booked, half price, for the next day to see a West End hit.

We jetted off to see Boeing Boeing which is a traditional British bedroom farce. A French man figures out how to maximise the travel schedules of flight attendants so that he can have three women - one from Italy, one from America and one from Germany.

As you can guess it went wrong. The results were very amusing. What I really liked though was how the American flight attendant was depicted - big everything, little girl voice, blonde hair, sex crazed and a good business woman. She was inspirational.

October 22, 2007

Whirlwind Arts & Culture

Our friend Nicole is visiting from San Francisco and we've been doing a whirlwind tour of British arts and culture.

We started with the Affordable Art Fair where every piece of art is under 3,000 GBP. Next we watched the Rugby World Cup in which England was defeated by South Africa. This we watched while eating Texas BBQ in a new restaurant that we loved so much we ate there two nights in a row.

Yesterday we continued the adventure with The Golden Age of Couture at the Victoria and Albert Museum with our neighbour Laia. Followed by the premier of Sir Richard Attenborough's soon-to-be released film Closing the Ring. This was part of the British Film Institute's London Film Festival. There was a red carpet and Sir Richard spoke before and after the film. We didn't love the film but it was really cool to be at a premier in London. We completed our evening with the penultimate episode of The Sopranos. Painful to watch.

Now Nicole is heading off to Barcelona and John, another friend from San Francisco, arrives for two days following his trip to Warsaw. Like ships passing in the night. It is so easy to pick up our conversations as though we see each other every day.
Photos: Amy & Nicole being silly. Sir Richard on stage (he's on the left).

October 19, 2007

Migraines and NLP

Every four to six weeks I get a headache that lasts for several days. This has been going on for the past six years. Although I can still get my work done it is dreadfully painful. As I mentioned in an earlier post I went to the City of London Migraine Clinic and now I've been seeing a physiotherapist as well. What I've learned is that many "things" can trigger a migraine - food, posture, stress, muscles...almost anything. Usually a migraine is caused by a combination of these "things", there is no exact route.

The GP at the Migraine Clinic noticed that I have a very painful neck and recommended that I address this with my physiotherapist. When I told Michael he started feeling around my neck and noticed that it is hard as a brick with lots of little painful nubbies. Plus, he recognized that when he touched my neck it immediately turned red - a sign of lack of blood circulation. This was all very sobering and has helped me see the link between my physiology and the migraines.

Last night I took a risk. I always have an underlying headache and for once it didn't feel very strong. So, I had a glass of red wine and then sprawled out on the couch to watch TV with Stephen. My head was tweaking my neck in the exact bad position that I'm supposed to avoid. Did I get up? No, I kept laying there and then the red wine must have been the topper to trigger the migraine. All through my sleep I could feel it in my right eye/temple.

This morning when I awakened I tried all kinds of techniques to start to alleviate the pain. First I massaged my neck how Mike had instructed me to do. It helped a bit. Next I practiced yoga breathing in one nostril and out the other and then reversing the air flow. This too offered some help. Then I remembered the NLP techniques I learned a few weeks ago on my INLPA course. Instead of giving into the pain and creating more stress - evidenced by my neck being even tenser than normal - I started to pinpoint the pain, to give it shape, color. I envisioned the connection between my neck and the pain in my eye/temple.

Suddenly I felt the need to get out of bed and play this out. In our spare bedroom I stood by the window and started pulling the pain out of my head as though it were a series of wispy strings. It was in my hair, on my face, in my neck. Then it became a long rope that I kept pulling out faster and faster. I saw it as a big pile of knotted cables on the floor. I picked up the mass mess and threw it out the window.

Next I asked myself - what do I get by holding on to this headache? What does it do for me? I realized - nothing. I can let go. Six years of a giant knot is a lot to get rid of so I pulled some more of the rope out. Yes, there is still a headache but I feel like I control it instead of it controlling me. Instead of scrunching up in pain I am slowly releasing the tension every minute. It is a tremendous feeling.

Now I know this all sounds a bit like black magic stuff. But if you have the brainpower to create tension why not use those same powers for good instead of evil? This in combination with avoiding my triggers - bad posture, red wine...will allow me to address the situation proactively.

If anyone is interested in exploring some NLP techniques with me, I need the practice, please email me at

October 17, 2007

Are You Speaking My Language?

Have you ever had the experience of you're words being translated during a conversation? An interpreter seems to be obligated to interpret everything and suddenly you see you're words coming to life. More than that, you see you're speech nuances in all their idiosyncratic forms.
That's what happened today when I met with a woman who works for the Royal National Institute for the Deaf. My work associate and I invited her to meet with us to discuss our training courses, which she had recently attended, to determine if we could make them more accessible for people with specialised learning requirements. Next week we meet with the Royal National Institute for the Blind about our books.

Coordinating the meeting was easy enough over email. That immediately broke down a latent fear I must have been holding of not being able to understand someone who is deaf. Her emails were casual and fun.

For the meeting she came to our offices and brought along an interpreter. Another fear broken down - she looked like someone I would hang out with - a potential friend. Even her high energy was something I could relate to.

We started our meeting and that's when I had the most difficulty. Although I was talking to her she had to look at the interpreter. Then I started to talk to the interpreter instead of her. But she could speak her response clearly so it was like a three way conversation with my work associate looking on in wonderment.

Suddenly my casual meeting-banter was being translated and I began to stumble, pause, repeat myself. I found myself saying "proactively" a lot. Then I pointed it out and the translater translated it, with all my facial expressions. Luckily it was an easy-going conversation and it seemed that she got my humour - or at least was polite enough to giggle along with me. Yes, I think she got it.

The net outcome (how's that for biz speak?) was that we came up with some good ideas for making our programmes (how's that for British spelling?) more accessible, proactively. I was so inspired that I took the moment beyond the meeting and was able to get the title sponsor for our next event to hire a sign language interpreter.

Later I was thinking about how difficult it must be to make friends if you can't verbally communicate. Yes, there are other ways of communicating but for me hanging out and chit-chatting is really important. Maybe I can learn sign language - then the next question is American or British?