Wednesday, January 20, 2010

That's my seat

Some things never matter how many choirs I sing in...whether they are church choirs or symphony choirs, some things are constant.  Where one sits clearly matters.

As the newbie in my local community choir, I clearly must learn the hierarchy of "who sits where".  As I write this, I should qualify this statement by adding that this phenomen applies primarily to women singers and gets progressively worse as the women in the choir age.  Thankfully, men could care less...rightfully so.

Let  me explain.

I arrived right at the stroke of 8 PM last evening for my regular Tuesday night choir rehearsal.  This spring, the choir is performing Elijah by Mendelssohn.  In this work, some of the score is divided into eight vocal parts, requiring me to sit in the same area as my fellow Soprano IIs.  As I proceeded to take a vacant seat in the SII section, I was almost seated when I heard, "That seat's taken."

Oh, OK, so sorry.  I moved to the next open seat I saw only to hear, "That seat's saved."  Wow, well was a bit after 8 pm and the person was clearly late.  I began to think "Possession is 9/10s of the law" when I thought...the person saving the seat clearly possessed the seat. 

OK...I spied a third open seat.  As I began to take a seat, I was told, "You can't sit there, that is Hazel's regular seat!"  My frustration was starting to surface as I thought but did not verbalize, "Well, where in the tarnation is Hazel then?".  I, however, moved on to the final remaining open seat only to be told that I had now veered in the Soprano I section.

Ladies, come on!  I sat down anyway.

I am such a rebel.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Why not combine two of my favorite things?

The first week of marathon training concluded on a positive note; I can resolutely say I achieved my training objectives including the running schedule, diet (thanks, Larry North), hydration, and recovery fronts.  The last few marathons did not bring the finish times I had hoped for, so I went back to the book that could crack that code one more time. When I think about my best finish times, weather, temperature, sun/rain/wind had nothing to do with them.   Remember NYC in the cold pouring rain?

Truthfully, the power is in my hands. 

So, the challenge is to make sure I do what I know works.  For me, keeping to the training schedule has never been the issue.  However, in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, including the ups and downs of project work at the office, I do not always follow the other elements of marathon preparation as religiously as I know I should.  For example, getting 8+ hours of sleep a night, stretching EVERY day, eating enough food as well as the right foods, and most importantly, allowing my body the recovery  time it needs. That includes resting on rest days, keeping the legs propped up, and a new entrant into the mix...weekly massages after the long run to hasten muscle recovery.

I am happy to report that I stayed true to all these objectives during week 1; only 15 more weeks to go before D-Day.

On a related note, I also realized I needed a change of many times can I complete the same 2-3 hour long runs in my west London neighborhood without getting bored out of my skull with the views.  Seen it before..done it...been there. 

Enter my 2010 long run training strategy.  Why now combine two things that I love to do into one activity:  running and sightseeing.  Yet where can this American run in London each week with a minimal amount of hassle and car traffic but allow me lots of space to pack in a few hours of running?  Let me think....let me think. Since running affords plenty of time to really get to know a place,  I hit upon this brainstorm during Sunday's long run as I was reminiscing over my marathon training while  tovisiting London in July 2000.  The setting for those runs were Hyde and Kensington Parks.

Answer:  London's great parks!  Every weekend, I will pick a different park in which do my long runs.  Even if I have to repeat a park here or there, it won't be that often!

And so, it began. In week 1, I checked out, for a little under 2 hours, Stamford Park Green (technically, not a park but it was on the way, so what the heck!) and Ravenscourt Park.  It was a gloriously sunny day and one we had not had in London for weeks, and so I ran the mile or so to Ravenscourt Park to enjoy the park in all its sunny splendor for technically 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Next up in the park rotation?  Not sure...guess you will have to check back next Saturday to find out..

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The sorry state of grit in the UK

Before the posting, some simple definitions:

Grit - a.k.a. sand
Gritting - a.k.a. sanding
Gritting the roads - a.k.a. sanding the roads

For the past 3-4 weeks, all the UK news reports describe the dangerously low levels of grit in the UK.  With this recent spate of bad weather, snow and ice, and impossible road and sidewalk conditions, the UK has apparently blown through their stock of grit for the winter season.

Of course, more can be ordered,  but that takes time and when your supplies are already at a low ebb, getting more grit in when the roads are impossible is....well...not really an opton.  So, the rationing of grit has begun.  Only the major motorways and high streets (is another translation needed for the Yanks?  that is, highways/interstates and main streets) are being allocated grit.  Neighborhoods and side streets are a  "first come, first serve, fend for yourself" basis.

Not that I personally mind working from home and staying off the roads, but cabin fever has begun to settle in.  Once I get to the motorways, usually it is very is just getting out of our neighborhood that is a bit "slippery" to be totally accurate.  Hey-ho, other than the impact to my running, I have been pretty self reliant in the house.

It does beg the question, though, "Why were the grit levels so low to begin with?"  We had a HUGE snowstorm last year in the UK and knew what it took to grit the roads then....why the problem less than 12 months later?  Short answer:  for cost-cutting and budgetary reasons, the UK authorities who order the grit (whatever agencies these are) literally bet...took a calculated gamble if it were...that the UK would not get another snowstorm a second year in a row.  Oops...guess they bet wrong...This could have been avoided apparently by ordering a bit more grit in the first place and keeping it in reserve...

I know..always easy to be a Monday morning quarterback.  Truthfully, those of us in London were not terribly inconvenienced....but for those in the North, it has been a big issue.

I think I know...

...what kind of old lady I am going to be.  I continue to get glimpses into the future and I think the handwriting is on the wall....

(1)  The old lady in the red house with all the will probably see me featured on some nightly news program...I will either have set up a sanctuary for homeless animals or they will all be living with me.  As much as I love animals, let's hope it is the former, and not the latter.

(2)  I will be the one "who has fallen and can't get up".  A couple of tumbles down the housestairs in London have already assured me of that.  Do I need to order my medi-alert bracelet now?

(3)  I already have trouble opening jars, bottles, or packaging of any kind with my hands...does not bode well for the future meds.

(4)  My brain's hard drive needs "de-fragging"...too much junk stored up there and I can never find what I need when I need it. 

Now, before I get any comments from those friends and families who are already enjoying the "autumn of their years", this is in no way meant to be is only an observation of the adage..."we all get older".

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Marathon training

Thanks all for your inquiries during the holidays regarding my marathon preparation.  I am well into my training now, but the snow and ice of last week wreaked havoc with running...too much ice on the roads to run.  Also, trying to be better this time about getting rest and eating just right during the months of my training.....even though it is marathon #13, there are still little things to tweak.

The fundraising bit is now where I need to turn my and holidays have really put me behind the "eight-ball" in solicitiing donations.  I will begin sending the requests for support out soon so any and all support would be very appreciated.

Till then...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Dancing on Ice - kinda

I will own it upfront.  The Budman and I are suckers for the UK show, Dancing on Ice, where celebs ice-dance with professional iceskaters in a weekly countdown to an overall winner at the end of 16 weeks.  Think:  Dancing with the Stars (US) or Strictly Come Dancing (UK) on an ice-rink.  Of course, the main draw of the show is Torville and Dean, of 1984 Olympic UK fame!

We've been watching it since living in comments, please, especially from those of you who watch Celebrity Big Brother (which also films on the same site as DOI).

With that said, I signed up weeks ago for the possibility of free tickets to a taping of a live show, with the off-chance that I might actually pick up some freebie tix.  As luck had it, I procured 4 tickets to last Friday night's taping, so off in the snow and bitter cold the Budman, Cyn, Paulster, and I traipsed to the ITV studio in far north London.

We all arrived early to ensure we got seats...not everyone that shows up will get into the studio, don't you know?.  Literally at 4:30 pm, the Budman and I arrive to stand in line (outside in sub freezing temps) to obtain said seats.  We are thrilled, we are FIRST in line.. "Wow", we say, "Getting here early really paid off".  After an hour or so in line, we were allowed to come inside to wait for the 9 PM taping.  As we approached the desk and flash our tickets, we were told, "You are in the wrong line - this is only for the VIPs" (i.e. for  people who know someone that is in the show).  Thanks, Mr. Security Guard for sending us to the wrong line...we are clearly not VIPs (although, everyone is a VIP to someone, somewhere). 

As we made our way around the corner and down the street to find the line for the "regular" people, we saw the line snaking through the snow.  To make a long story short, were were 194-198 in line.  Here we are waiting in the "holding tank" (which looked like a Texas junior high school basketball gym) waiting to enter the studio.  A lovely woman offered to take our is her best attempt out of three, thumbprint and all.

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Kindly, her husband offered to take the photo of the four of us one final time. I think the Iphone technology threw them a bit.  OK, one more time with feeling.  Yes, sweet success!

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The good news is that we would have seats to watch the show.  The less than good news is that we then waited for another 2 hours or so to be shown to literally the worst seats in the studio....planted right next to the onstage ice igloo.   Sorry, let me correct that, the two women behind us on the last row technically had the worst seats in the house.  Oh well, we had a blast and laughed alot so it was a fun night.

We did race home that evening and scrolled through the taping to see if we had made of the sightings of ourselves in the broadcast!

Still , we had a great time, and saw the behind the scenes filming of the show.  Sadly, it was the first show of the season so no celebs actually performed that night, but we did get to see a couple of ice dances.

Friday, January 08, 2010

We eventually figure things out...

How do you react when you finally realize that something you been quite indignant over is actually "the way something works". In other words, it's a confirmed process, it's A-OK, all's well. Thankfully, we choose to laugh most of the time.

Although living abroad usually provides one of those experiences annually, I did not realize this year's example would become apparent quite so early. As an example, for you early TRAVELSOFATEXASGAL blogreaders, you will recall my rantings I shared while living in Germany.  Upon making my first trip to the grocery store in Dusseldorf, to my dismay I found I had to "rent" a shopping cart. Well, uh, no, not really "rent" as it turns out; rather, "make a deposit" of 1 euro (what was my beef anyway at that price?) to unlock the shopping cart from its stall and then promptly return the cart to said stall, thus redeeming my 1 euro. Yes, please...have a giggle. I am sure no one else has ever had an experience like that ...say, when you were travelling abroad.

Anyway, I now have the 2010 tale. December 2008 was actually the first Christmas we lived in London. Shortly after New Year's last year, when everyone was taking down their Christmas trees, we noticed that those families with "real" trees were leaving their trees in random places in our local park. 5-10 trees deposited here, 10-15 trees stacked there, and the sites of tree deposits went on and on. It was random though. Not in one centralized place, or next to a sign "officially" indicating this was a tree drop-off. In fact, no such signage ever appeared.

Our reaction to this: "How awful that residents do not take their trees to a recycling center, the the local tip (city dump as we know it in Texas) does not have a recycling program, that people are too lazy to dispose properly of their trees", etc. Where were people's manners and concern for their neighborhood? (At this point, I should have realized that this many people cannot be wrong - sadly, I did not).

Flash forward to Christmas 2009. Budman and I embrace the real Christmas tree concept this year for the first time in over 15 years, mainly because our artifical Christmas tree purchased in Taipei did not fit in our living room in our London house. Now comes the time to remove the tree "post holiday" season. Where do we take the tree for recycling? Good question, so we checked our local council's website for guidance.

To quote that fable Christmas poem, "...and what to our wondering eyes did appear..." but the simple instructions..."drop it anywhere in your local park for pickup by the council in January.

Yep...felt a bit reprimanded. Sorry neighbors for last year's chastisement.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Snow, snow, snow, snow

London finally got in on the snow-act "post Christmas" as it snowed in London all day yesterday, including in my little corner hamlet of west London. For those poor people in Scotland and northern England, they have been braving massive snowfalls for days, so we can't really complain.

Having decided not to brave the roads, I stayed tucked in my home office with my office mate Ginger.

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The good news is that London is supposed to get more snow today as well; good, because I like snow! The bad news is that the snow is turning to ice...and that is when the real problems begin. Forget that I might not be able to get to work; sister here has studio audience tickets to the taping of tomorrow night's Dancing On Ice, with Torville and Dean, and we gotta get to north London for the taping.

I did snap these photos about 30 minutes into yesterday's snowfall.

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Monday, January 04, 2010

Resolutions, returning to work, taking down the Christmas tree, and other January blues

It is not that I dislike January, winter weather, or employment. It does however signal a "return to normal", whatever normal is and that with January comes a signal that the Christmas holidays are indeed over.

No more staying up to 3 AM watching old movies, only checking email once a day (yes, those of you who know me should be proud), no more galavanting about London playing tourist....sadly, January indicates that the Christmas "stay-cation" has come to a close. We sure did enjoy that R&R and downtime, though.

As we embrace a new year (and decade), the Hachie Gal decided that this was the year of practical resolutions. Nothing unattainable, lofty, or Type - A oriented goals in the lot (please, no more cracks about the 13th marathon). Resolutions are a bit personal so I will refrain from too much introspection in this venue. Suffice to say, I have already begun to put several of those into practice.

Realizing that resolutions are made to be broken, any progress on the resolution front is goodness in my book. I am a winner either way I look at it.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Happy New Year!

Hard to believe that we are not only in a new year, but in a new decade. Where does the time go?

Buddy and I wish all our family and friends the best in the coming year, good health, pursuit of your hopes and dreams, and all the best that life has to offer.

Love to you all! Happy 2010!

On the thirty-first day of Christmas...

...we made the trek to ...drum roll, please...Costco. As loath as I am to admit it, we got downright ancy as we strolled through the aisles with excitement.

Of course, the biggest challenge one faces with the Costco runs pertain to where to store the stuff that is procured. No small feat in a country where the storage space rivals the closet sizes in Ken and Barbie's Malibu House. Still, it is nice to know it is there...a little bit of home.

The only downside to the day's Costco run is that we missed Paulster and Cyn's call for a movie and London/Thames NY Eve fireworks. Bummer, especially since we watched the World Dart Championship Quarter Finals instead that evening.

Yes, I live life on the the edge....

On the thirtieth day of Christmas...

...we extended our nap-time from yesterday....glorious.

On the twenty-ninth day of Christmas...

...we ran out of steam....enough said.

On the twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth days of Christmas...

...the Budman and I headed 30 minutes south to enjoy a day or so of R&R.  One of the gifts that Santa gave to the Budman was an overnight spa break at Cliveden Hotel.  Since the Budman is all about luxury hotels, spa treatments and historic places, Santa did good!

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Another added bonus for the Budman was that this roadtrip commemorated THE FIRST time the Budman had driven since getting his UK driving license.  Sighs of relief the whole way round... mainly because he had to keep cancelling his appointment to take the test due to work conflicts.  However, in mid December, a few days before Christmas, the Budman received the green light to hit the road.  So, for this trip, he was behind the wheel.

The first house was built in 1666 by the 2nd Duke of Buckingham. A notorious rake, schemer and wit, he created Cliveden as a hunting lodge where he could entertain his friends and mistress. Since then it has twice been destroyed by fire, only to emerge, phoenix-like, more stunning than before. The house has played host to virtually every British Monarch since George I and has been home to three Dukes, an Earl and Frederick Prince of Wales.

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Queen Victoria, a frequent guest, was not amused in 1893 when the house was bought by William Waldorf Astor, America’s richest citizen. When he gave it to his son and daughter-in-law in 1906, Cliveden became the hub of a hectic social whirl where guests included everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Winston Churchill, and President Roosevelt to George Bernard Shaw.  It was after the First World War that Cliveden really came into its own as centre of social and political influence, when Nancy Astor decided to enter Parliament. She made history when she became the first ever woman MP at Westminster in 1919.

Perhaps the earliest sign of what was eventually to become of Cliveden came in 1942, when Waldorf’s concerns over the cost of the house’s upkeep prompted him to give the entire estate to the National Trust. The arrangement provided for the Astor family to continue living at Cliveden for as long as they wished to remain. Like many country homeowners, the post-war years for the Astors were tough, not helped by a distancing of relations between Nancy and Waldorf. Waldorf himself died in August 1952, while Nancy outlived him by another 12 years. The death of her eldest son, Bill, the third Viscount Astor, two years after hers, spelt the end for the 73-year long reign of the Astors at Cliveden. Today. it is a fabulous hotel where people can enjoy the feeling of living in an English estate.

Photos of the house, its exterior, Great Hall and other lovely rooms, and other historical buildings.

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The Christmas tree in the Great Hall at Cliveden.

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Budman and Hachie Gal enjoy afternoon tea,

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The exterior of Cliveden....from all sides.

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Cliveden at night.

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Our room, the Price Albert room.

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Scene of the spa treatments...thanks, Santa.

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Cliveden Hotel sits on 376 acres of National Trust land that is equally as beautiful to walk, which we did on both days.  The Thames River also flows right past this house and grounds as well.

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Kissing the Budman until the mistletoe.
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(Like those wellies?!)

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Farewell, Cliveden!

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