Saturday, January 31

Chicken laksa soup recipe

Completely random topic switch again but in a bout of homesickness the other day I realised that what I really wanted was a good spicy chicken laksa, or at least a good approximation thereof. I was also hoping it would tempt the beloved into eating something more than toast in the evening! Since laksa is basically unheard of here and I didn't have time to make something from scratch, I used what I had on hand to approximate and it was bloody good! Recipe as follows:

Chicken Laksa
2-3 spoons of laksa paste or improvise with Tom Kah/Red Curry etc
Floaty things to make the broth taste even better ie. sliced chili, lemongrass stalks, ginger slices, kaffir lime leaf
1can coconut milk (get the one with the least added ingredients)
1 cup stock...chicken or fish
1 chicken breast cut crossways into thin slices
A dash of soy if your pastes aren't too salty
A good tablespoon of sugar to keep the hot/salty/sour balanced
Heat tolerant vegies such as bamboo and corn spear
Greens such as brocollini and sugar snap peas
Half a lime
Cooked noodles of your choice
Bean sprouts, coriander (cilantro), Vietnamese mint and shredded spring onion finish

Warm the paste in a large wok, add the coconut milk, stock and floaty things and stir well to mix the paste evenly. Once the soup is bubbling add the chicken, stir,  then add the bamboo/corn etc (not the greens) and season with the sugar and soy as required. Once the chicken is cooked, pile the noodles in large bowls and top with bean sprouts, coriander leaves, Vietnamese mint and finely sliced spring onion. Add the greens and the lime juice to the soup and ladle over the noodles almost immediately to make sure the greens are still a little crunchy. And that's all there is to it! Switching the chicken to prawns is even better, but not so good for Josie!

Friday, January 30

So how exactly do two girls make a baby?

Some of you have asked. Others have probably thought it. Well here's the skinny.

It was a quiet Tuesday night at home. The beloved and I had finished dinner and were watching some kind of hyper reality on the box when there was a knock at the door. We opened the door to reveal a UPS delivery guy. He was tall, perfectly built with piercing blue eyes and feathery hair and he had a propensity to hover and give off light. So not our usual guy but maybe he was off sick? In a voice that sounded like he was in his own personal amphitheater, he said "I have a delivery for the Beloved". Those blue eyes swept past me and had the audacity to look slightly relieved as Jo stepped forward. He said "Don't be afraid, sign here. You're up the duff and the package will be delivered some time in July... Do you need a receipt?" And that was that, true story!

Ok maybe not. In fact, Tuesday came about with the help of a fabulous fertility specialist called Dr B. We didn't need to use IVF and there were no turkey basters! Apologies to the male ego but said baster was actually a teeny tiny syringe that Dr B cheerfully referred to as "the tom cat", which did nothing more complex than depositing some swimmers through the cervix. I may or may not have been heard to say "lie back and think of England" during this process... Bad Jac!

Photo edit thanks to Andrew ;)

Thursday, January 29

Hacked Texas roadsign

I don't usually regurgitate news stories but this one was too classic to pass up. According to this news story, someone in Austin hacked a digital roadsign to display the following warning! I love it.

Wednesday, January 28

Mastercard needs a good spanking!

AKA Jac is mad...

Ok, rant time. Jo and I only have one bank in America. I mean, there's not much point having multiple credit cards, fees etc... Or so I thought. I got a call from the bank a couple of weeks ago to say there's been a breech at mastercard and some card information has been compromised so they're canceling my credit card and reissuing a new one. Ok, I was a bit pissy but it seemed fair. No online spending until the new one arrives shouldn't be too much of a problem, right? Actually, it has been more of a pain than I thought because I use the card to book work travel and instead I've had to use the incredible convoluted approved travel agent system. And it has been more than 2 weeks and I still don't have the new card.

But it gets worse. Last week they called me again to say that my debit card was also compromised and they were canceling that too. Wait, now I have no cards? So I'm stuck either relying on Josie to pay for things like groceries, or I have to write checks! *shudder* And still no credit card, so no clue when the new debit card will appear!

But wait, it gets even worse. Yesterday they called Jo and canceled her card! I kid you not. We are completely cut off from our bank accounts, at least plastically. Argh! I feel like I'm living in the dark ages. How the frack are we supposed to help the struggling economy if we can't use either of our accounts?? At least the beloved had the foresight to withdraw some cash.


Monday, January 26

Australia day!

Of course today is Australia Day (well, in Australia anyway but that is where it counts) so we are at home baking Anzac biscuits and listening to Triple J's Hottest 100 via the wonders of internet radio

The Anzac biscuits are for tomorrow because we're having a bit of an Australia Day/Indian Republic Day celebration at lunch time, offering people a little cultural tasting. In addition to our biscuits we'll have sausage rolls, Vegemite sandwiches, pav, a selection of Arnotts including mint slice and tim tams, lammingtons and some lollies! No clue what the Indian contingent are providing but I'm sure it'll be good!

In case anyone has a hankering for a house that smells like butter and golden syrup, here's the recipe I'm using.

Melt 125g of butter with 2-3 tablespoons of golden syrup (I'm heavy on the syrup)

Dissolve 1tsp of bicarb soda in 2 tablespoons of hot water and add it to the melted butter mixture

In a large bowl combine-
1 cup of rolled oats
1 cup of plain flour
2/3 cup of sugar
3/4 cup of desiccated coconut

Add the butter mixture, mix well, roll into walnut sized balls and flatten slightly on greased trays allowing room for spreading (about 2-3cm of spreading)

Bake at 320F for about 10-15 minutes or until they become golden brown. Cool on a wire rack and eat them while they're still a little warm in the middle! (or not, that's just the best time)

Happy Oz Day!

Saturday, January 24

An update on the destruction that was our view

The bulldozers continue their destructive work. It is amazing what they can 'achieve' in a week...  well maybe not when you consider that they start before 7am! Not only are the trees gone now, but all those old build structures have also been flattened. Silly me thought they'd be out there with jackhammers smashing up the concrete, but who needs jackhammers when you can just pound it over and over with the bucket of a digger? I have to admit it was terribly amusing watching this process, as it looked like the digger was having a really bad day and beating it's head against the ground.

This is taken from our deck. The trucks and diggers all park off to the right of this picture, which of course is just outside our bedroom window! Not much left of that big old concrete shed that used to be out there! The chinaberry tree is tastefully hiding the row of bright blue portaloos.

The sandy coloured piles that you can see are what remains of all those trees. They had a giant mulcher, the size of an overturned cement truck, and the diggers were just dropping whole trees in there. The only good thing is that they smell really good, but it is so sad. I hate to think of how many nests are all chopped up in there. Of course, sitting like that in the Texas sun they've started superheating in their cores and smoke is appearing above them!

Our apartment complex still claims to know nothing about what's going on in there, and they haven't even been down to see what it looks like, but they have admitted to receiving lots of complaints from residents. We know a few people who, like us, as leaving as soon as possible. Actually, I had a call from the office the other day to offer us the apartment that we initially wanted to transfer to, for less than we had originally pushed for! I guess they're really starting to feel the burn. It was pretty satisfying to tell them that we had already signed somewhere else. Seriously poor management choices on their part but we are really please to be going somewhere else with a new view and more space and all that good stuff. Speaking of which, we've been approved for the new apartment and we move in March first. A new apartment, spring, perfect :)

Thursday, January 22

Pea and ham soup

And now for something completely different! The only real downside to Jo being the preggersaurus is that she has developed somewhat of an apathy towards food. We have been lucky in that her nausea wasn't terrible, just irritating, but there isn't much that she really wants to eat. And the weirdest part is that things she will eat are sometimes things she's always despised. Pea and ham soup being an excellent example! As soon as I realised she felt like eating some I whipped up a big batch, so I thought I'd share the method here. Not a true recipe because I'm using approximate quantities (soup is fluid in more ways than one).

The soup is made in two parts. First the base (a little more hefty than stock) and then the actual soup. In this case the majority of the flavour comes from the base, and the texture from the final stage.

To start with you'll need some good smoked pork hocks/neck or bacon bones. A ham bone would work too. I found these hocks and neck bones at our local supermarket and they're usually stupidly cheap. I try to pick hocks that have a little meat on them, because I strip it out and add it to the final soup.

The idea is to simmer these for a few hours with a range of other aromatic tasties to make a rich, smokey ham stock. To mine I added garlic, celery, ginger, onion, carrots, bay leaves, some fresh herbs and dried chilies (I like a little bite in there, some back heat).

All of those go into the pot and are covered with water. Simmer it down for as long as you can, skimming off any scum. Try not to let it boil too hard because it kind of emulsifies the proteins and makes the stock muddy.

Let the soup base cool, strain out the solids (don't throw them out yet though) and skim off as much fat as you can (shouldn't have too much). Rescue the ham bones from the solids and you can throw out the rest. You want to pull off any good pieces of meat from the bones and reserve the meat, discarding the picked over bones.

Now for the fun bit. You have the soup base, now you just need the main ingredients. I use an onion (roughly chopped), some peeled baby carrots (roughly chopped), a bay leaf, the reserved meat from the bones (finely chopped), about 1 to 1.5 cups of split green peas (rinsed well and picked over for stones) and some bacon or ham. I use Canadian bacon because it is the leanest thing we can get here and it doesn't taste overly smoked. If you use streaky bacon or salt pork you'd want to cook it separately to melt off some of the excess fat. A good quality deli ham would also work really well. Finely chop the bacon. 

To make the soup you need to sweat down some onion and carrot, with a bay leaf or two, in a little butter or olive oil. Not too hot, just let them sweat for 5-10 minutes till they soften up and the onions look glassy and smell good. Add a little salt if your soup base isn't too salty, or skip it if the bones you used were well salted. Add the bacon and let it cook with the vegies for 5 minutes or so, then add the soup base, the reserved meat and the split peas. Let the whole thing simmer very gently for half an hour to an hour, or as long as it takes for the peas to become so soft they disappear when you suck them.  Add pepper (or chili) to season.

Now I like my pea and ham soup smoothish with a little texture from the meat, so at this point I blend the whole darn thing.  You can serve it right away but it is definitely better the next day. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 21

"Hope' and "Change' don't even begin to describe it

There's hope tingling in the air - it is almost tangible! Today is the day that Barack Obama officially becomes the 44th President of the United States and I am so glad that we are here to experience it.Americans are so good at spectacle and celebration and tugging the heartstrings. The hairs on my arms stood up this morning when the morning television replayed parts of Obama's victory speech, and they haven't calmed down since! It's like an American version of a coronation, and he will basically be a king, for the next four years at least. It seems appropriate that yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr Day, and a perfect lead up to today's events.

As usual NPR have excellent coverage of the event. The library at work is opening all its multimedia rooms so that we can all watch the coverage today (heading over there in a second) which is fabulous.

Here's the quote from the victory speech that makes me tingle-
"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.

It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled - Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America."

And I'll leave you with the prayer from the Right Reverend Gene Robinson that kicked off the event (but I won't go into the political mess and PR frack ups as to when and where this appeared - it is powerful enough to stand regardless)
O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect andwarm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.


Tuesday, January 20

Making mischief of one kind and another

Moving on from the last batch of news I'm changing direction entirely and posting another of the paintings I did recently. This one was for a dear friend who sent us this adorable photo of her son in the dragon suit we sent him (bless him for loving it instead of running screaming!)

Isn't he cute?

So I messed around sketching the photo...

Which after much cursing and stressing on my part it eventually turned into this!
Not the best pic (bad angle) and the colours aren't quite true to the original, but you get the idea :D The cool thing is, aparently he's still wearing the dragon suit 1 year on! (ok, so he hasn't worn it continuously for a year...that would be gross)

Monday, January 19

And Tuesday makes three?

What could all this mean?

Yes, I've developed a strange fanaticism about the 'can't live without cuteness' of small items of clothing...

Oh and there was that incident with the plus on the pee-stick...

And there appears to be some kind of alien-fish-person taking residence in the beloved's tummy (15 weeks worth of residence to be precise!)

Yep, Tuesday (pet name for said captive alien) is on the way, hopefully joining us some time in July.  So it seems we are becoming three :D

Happy Birthday Mum

Friday, January 16

Some recent paintings

This first one isn't recent at all! I painted it for the beloved soon after she arrived here so that our walls wouldn't be quite so blank! It is about 60x30cm, acrylic on canvas, and heavily inspired by one of my favorite artists. Don't read to much into it though, I promise the composition is nothing if not random!

Rabbit and Jellyfish

The second is the most recent thing I've done. I painted it for good friends of ours here in Texas for their Christmas present. You see, they are the kind of generous souls who always give you 'the best present ever' but are impossible to buy for themselves. The do, however, have two beloved cats Pilchard and Dory - so I decided to immortalise them Jac style.

The cats (Pilchy is the loyal black one and Dory is the somewhat autistic tabby)

This one is 30x40cm and again, acrylic on canvas.

And just to prove that I'm not taking this too seriously, here's a shot of my somewhat chaotic workspace - aka our kitchen table!

Thursday, January 15


Never blend in...
Last week a friend of ours took us to see MILK, the film about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to office in California (and maybe the US) and the incredible impact he had. If you don't know the story it's worth reading. Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by a fellow politician, Dan White. Harvey Milk served as district supervisor for 11 months but during that time he was instrumental in increasing equality and civil rights for gay people in California, and as a result the whole of the US. Chillingly, he left taped messages to be opened in the case of his death, including the following quote:

"If a bullet should enter my brain, let it destroy every closet door" Harvey Milk
Mural by John Baden of Harvey Milk at 575 Castro Street, the former site of Milk's store, Castro Camera. Image: Wikipedia

Harvey Milk outside his camera shop after his 1977 election to the San Francisco board of supervisors. Image: UPI/Corbis-Bettmann

The film was fabulous and since they began with the ending in a fairly gentle way it wasn't too upsetting. The integration of archival footage was so well done and totally enhanced the film, rather than making it feel stop-start. Sean Penn was just outstanding as Milk, and I totally lost myself in it and him. The most upsetting part, for me, was the realisation that even after everything Milk and his friends worked for, 30 years ago, we are still having similar battles today (ie. Prop 8) which frustrates me literally to tears. However, go and see this film if you can.

Penn as Milk

Wednesday, January 14

Is this progress??

Hold these pics in your head for a sec

On Friday morning, some trucks turned up in the green belt behind our apartment. This is an undeveloped strip of land between us and the quarry that had a lot of old oaks in it, and used to have longhorn cows. Recently we'd seen deer and coyotes in there, and lots of birds and squirrels, and it was the main reason our apartment was so lovely!

Exhibit A - our "backyard"

By the time we got home from work on Friday that had bulldozed more than half of the whole greenbelt into a huge pile of broken trees! It looked like a moonscape. They were back at it bright and early Saturday morning too. Thankfully they let up on the day of rest, but started again at 5AM (!!) on Monday morning. It is so disappointing to see the destruction, let alone hearing it at that time if the day.

Exhibit B...moonscape

And the digger! ggrrr

This might be loud and hard to see but you get the idea!

Anyhow, weird timing but the day it all started was the same day we received a letter from our complex reminding us that our lease is almost expired and asking what we wanted to do. First avenue we tried was an internal transfer to a larger apartment within the complex, but removed from the construction, however the head manager decided to get a bee in her bonnet and it was all too hard for her! (that's the condensed version of that one!)

To cut a long and stressful story short, we have friends who have a lovely apartment in a complex not far from ours, so we decided to take a look there and see if maybe we could take over their lease, which expires the same time as ours. The only read downside to that plan was that us and our stuff would be in limbo for a week while the place was cleaned and transferred. When we turned up at the complex to find out about that one, explaining that we are very picky about location (third floor, facing the right direction and looking over trees not carparks), we discovered that another apartment in that a same building we liked, 3rd floor, overlooking trees, was going to be available a month earlier! Bingo. The bonus is that it is on the end of the building so it has additional windows and only one shared wall (and hopefully a good amount of shade to combat the summer sun). The downside is that we haven't seen inside that particular one, but a similar one 3 doors away. However the complex have agreed to let us see it the minute it is vacated and if we don't like it we'll switch to taking over the other lease. Perfect all round! The new house is in a bigger complex, with 2 pools and a better gym, and is walking distance to the cinema, bookstores and other shops, as well as our favorite pub the flying saucer! Good for visitors :D
The new floorplan

Now we get to look forward to the excitement of a new place! Spring is a good time for a move. I feel a bit sorry for all our friends who will help us move but I'll be sure to repay them in edibles.

So in a strange way it is progress.

Monday, January 12

England 08 in juicy detail - Final post!

The final leg and the final epic England post! I'm going to backtrack slightly to Heron House, where our last day was Boxing Day (December 26 for you American folk). For our post-Christmas day festivities Ruthie had organised for even more family members to join us for lunch and dinner, including more cousins (Anna and Charlie) and also Aunty Frances and Uncle Jonathon. Frances is Jeannie's older sister, and again, an absolute delight! Sadly, Charlie, her partner and their little one couldn't make it because the little tacker had a nasty fever and they were all sleep deprived, but Jo and I went with Ruthie to collect Anna which meant that I at least got to meet them all. And the coolest thing was that they had a house-trained pet bunny who was so wonderful!! He was totally cool with the dog and cats and wasn't at all scratchy when you held him. Ashton, the little one, seriously informed us that he wasn't in fact a bunny, he was a rabbit.

Jon and Frances provided lunch, which turned out to be a huge spread of delicious sandwiches, including tomato and pate (my favorite), smoked salmon and dill and of course cucumber. We played 4 player games on the playstation that had us in stitches and went for a lovely afternoon walk with the low sun behind us throwing long shadows. After dinner we said our somewhat teary goodbyes to Ruthie and family and went with Frances and Jonathon to their house for our last major leg of the trip.

Jon and Francie's house is in Elmswell (all's well in Elmswell), in Suffolk just outside of Bury St Edmunds (I was never sure if they did, bury him that is...) The house was wonderful and warm and sported a lovely old retriever called Tess and an elderly one-eyed cat called Tigger who I loved and it seems it was mutual! The first morning there was the closest we came to snow, but really it was just a good solid frost!


That day Frances and Jonathan took us for a leisurely drive towards the coast (where we were lunching). On the way we stopped in at this great place called Jimmy's Farm. Turns out Jimmy is a bit of a celebrity (he'll probably be popping up on Aussie TV if he hasn't already) He's a friend of Jamie Oliver and started his own farm, mostly breeding rare pigs. It was absolutely freezing so I slacked on photos because I couldn't take my hands out of my pockets, but we saw two recent pig litters and the fabulous herb garden, but my favorite bit by far was the store where they had all the meat cuts, small goods, local cheeses and all sorts of other deliciousary! I can't imagine having a place like that on my doorstep. Frances and Jon (bless them) bought us the book where he describes setting up the farm, which Jo is reading at the moment and totally loving it. I think she sees chooks and a goat in our future. Anyway, if you haven't heard of this guy look him up, and if you get a chance to watch him I'm sure he'll be great. We're hoping it'll turn up in America soon.

The herb garden at Jimmy's farm...of course looking wintery.

From Jimmy's we headed towards the Ipswich coast, well the mouth of the river Orwell I guess, to a little place called Pin Mill where we had lunch at a brilliant pub called the Butt and Oyster. The pub is right on the shore, with the tide butting up against its wall. I loved that the pubs are dog friendly, which meant we could bring Tess in with us and she just sat quietly under the table and ignored the eager attention of all the puppies who wanted to meet her.

The Butt and Oyster was just fabulous and fulfilled my dream to have real quality British pub fare. They had a local cider on tap which Francie and I both enjoyed (twice on my part). Lunch was homemade tomato soup to warm the core body up, then classy bangers and mash for Jo, humungo but delicious looking fish and chips (cod) for Jon, and salmon and prawn fishcakes and balsamic salad for Frances and I. Followed by (no idea how we managed this) sticky toffee pudding and clotted cream with four spoons to finish!!

Yep, it was as good as it looks!

After lunch we took Tessie for a walk through the fields (allowing time for our food to settle). It was cold but so beautiful, lush and green. Different again to Pavenham with the mudflat tang in the air and the seabirds all around us.

One of the fields we walked off our lunch in

We came back through Bury St Edmunds so that I could see a bit of the town, including the Cathedral that was just stunning! We wandered some stores and Jo and I stocked up on deodorant (because we can only get horrible paste in sticks in this crazy country and some of the spray on stuff is indescribably better - but people still think you're mad when you buy six cans!) That night we had a yummy dinner of all sorts of cold cuts, pate, cheeses, salad and other yummies, then just hung out together in front of the fire watching good British TV. Got to get your fill wherever you can.

That night was our last staying with family for this trip. In the morning Jon and Frances took us to the Pakenham Water Mill where Jon works as a volunteer. The mill was so impressive. It was earlyish in the morning so the light was perfect, but the restoration has been so well done. The mill is operational and its flour supplies a whole lot of local restaurants and such, as well as being a public attraction and learning center, and we were lucky enough to score an impassioned private tour!

The mill in the morning sun

The back on the mill including slightly scary and ultra still mill pond

Looking out over the mill pond!

Across the road from the mill was the property of a guy who makes all kinds of crazy topiary creatures, including a GIANT spider and a feisty looking fox. There were all sorts of wonderful creatures lurking in his field!

Spiders and foxes and gators oh my!

From the Mill we headed to Jo's cousin Beth's place (Frances and Jon's daughter) where we were expected for lunch with her, her partner and their two tiddlywinks, one of which was two weeks old! (hence why we didn't stay a night with them) Beth didn't look like she'd ever given birth, let alone so recently. Lunch was another fabulous mini Christmas of roast beef and all the trimmings (we're so spoilt!) After a lovely afternoon of playing with the kids (well, cuddling Libby) we hopped on the train for our final adventure.

The last stage of the journey was to catch the train from Colchester to Liverpool St Station, where we would then simply 'hop on the tube' and get ourselves to Terminal 4 at Heathrow. Sounds simple eh? Well it wasn't too bad. The train to Liverpool St turned out to be one stop of a train then an hour long bus trip through London, but that was fun too because it was non-stop and we got to see some of the outskirts (lived in parts) of the city. From Liverpool Street we bravely worked out that we needed to catch the central (red) line to Holburn then hop on the Piccadilly (blue) line all the way through to Terminal 4! We had made a really smart choice (on reflection) to book ourselves into the Terminal 4 Hilton for our last night so that we didn't have any early morning must get to the airport on time craziness! We checked in, got ourselves some hot chips and salad, then crashed out and enjoyed being clean and horizontal before the flight home. The hotel was great, a short (covered) walk to the terminal and really quiet considering its location. Plus it had really good toiletries which is always a good measure ;)

The flight home was pretty epic. No where near as relaxing as the one over. There were two small children who tag team screamed almost the entire way home. The food was crap and we didn't have a spare seat, but we got there fine. Now we're back in our sunny one minute freezing the next Texas winter!

A bonus pic for you... work this one out!

Saturday, January 10

England 08 in juicy detail - part 4

On the day before Christmas Eve Ruthie had kindly organised a day in London for us, including dinner and a show! Joining us on our London adventure were Ruth, Bridget and Katy, a friend of Ruth's from school. Katy was a blessing as she acted as our tour guide for the trip, and she was tall enough that we could keep an eye on her in the crowd! Actually, London was surprisingly uncrowded given that Christmas was moments away.

It was comforting to see a local using a map, and she'd even brought a guidebook with her so that we could swat up on the train. We caught the train from Bedford to St Pancras (missed the fast train by moments but I enjoyed the trip) and then the tube to St Paul's, our first stop, so that we could check out the cathedral. I love that it's in cheapside! Does this look like cheapside??

Not sure what these guys at the bottom did but it looks like they're in trouble!

From here on in my memory of the actual route we took gets a little muddy, partly because I was too busy looking at other stuff like phone boxes and taxis and bollards and architecture, and partly because I was totally and utterly lost the minute we stepped foot outside St Paul's station! London was big and maze like and confusing as anything but also so uniquely wonderful that I'd go back in a flash.

I loved this random wall (somewhere in Cheapside I think...)

My obsession with phone boxes continues

I think maybe we took the Tube to Covent Garden. I was terribly confused by the lack of garden and spent a few hour surreptitiously looking out for it before I finally asked where it was! Seems it used to be a garden market. Now it is just plain trixie. I just loved being there, partly because it is featured in one of my favorite books but mostly because it was so alive and full of interesting shops and cobbled lane ways and good food smells. Speaking of good food, one of the big draw cards for hitting Covent Garden in the first place was so that I could stick my head into Neal's Yard Dairy (farm cheeses from the British Isles - who could resist such a byline!!), however this was the only time that being so close to Christmas bit me in the bum. The line to get into the cheese shop was ginormous, and since it was freezing I didn't want to subject our merry crew to standing around just so that I could wander in and sniff cheeses. Oh well, next time!

Neal's Yard Dairy cheese shop... And I bet it is totally worth the queue!

While in Covent Garden Katy managed to talk her way (with us close behind) into the Royal Opera House where we proceeded to the top floor tea house. We were not the best dresses people there, let me tell you, and apart from one overheard snide remark about wearing jeans we did ok. It was probably a little too cold to take our coffee and cake on the balcony but the view was worth it!

The view from the Oprea House. The markets are in the glass boxes in the middle. You can also see the Eye way out in the background.

From there we wandered through the market stalls, now selling handmade jewelery and such instead of fruit and veg, and perused some fancy dress shops mostly because they had good heating and we needed to stoke the internal fires a tad. We saw several human statues, including a gold man on a bicycle, a man dressed like a tree who spoke like a bird, and the head of a man in a dog carrier (his face was painted to look like a puppy and the rest of him was under the table that the carrier sat on). The best thing was seeing all the statues having their break and taking cups of tea together! I should have photographed them but memories of the Roman centurions at the Colluseum stopped me. Since the occasional top ups in the botiques weren't cutting it we decided to hit a classic British establishment, the pub, to warm our cockles and get some food in our bellies. Hot chips seemed to be the order of the day and boy were they good! Big, fat, hot and tatsy chips... not like the dry but greasy twiglike 'fries' that pass for chips in the US. I broke from the pack and ordered a small serve of whitebait and was awfully pleased with myself - they were delicious! (although much larger than their Aussie cousins)

From Covent Garden I think maybe we walked to Trafalgar Square, the heart of London, where we of course saw Nelson's Column and the lions but also the enormous Christmas tree that was a gift from Norway.

Trafalgar Square and the Norwegian Christmas tree

Pic of the impressive Admiralty Arch. I believe Buckingham Palace is away behind there, but we didn't drop in on the Queen.

I loved the buses too!

From Trafalgar we walked to Piccadilly Circus and the big TDK sign, which was quite surreal.

Our merry crew looking cold!

I assume this is the entrance to Piccadilly Station

We walked along the sweeping curve of Regent Street as the light was draining from the sky and suddenly the Christmas decorations were all around us and just gorgeous!

Stars on Regent Street

Giant floating snow-people

(ok, the giant snow-people were a tad scary...)

Liberty is a gorgeous old department store that we came upon at some point around here in our wanderings

After a little shopping (I just had to stop in a Ben Sherman - but the shirt I wanted was a horrible cut) we left this end of town and caught the tube to somewhere else that I forget but it had a short name, Bank maybe? We were heading to our finale of dinner and a show! Dinner was at a little Italian restaurant just near the theatre that Ruth and Katy had pre-organised, and it was a great choice. Seeing both antipasto (all meat) and spaghetti alla vongole on the menu was a definite plus for me!

My antipasto...mmm

After dinner (including a finaly of lemon sorbet and lemonchello!) we headed across the road to the Apollo Victoria theatre to see Wicked! And wicked it was. What a great show! I took a while to warm to it but once it got going it was just superb. Everything a good musical should be. I'd like to read the book now because the story was much more solid than I expected, but the sets and costumes were just brilliant! It's a shame you couldn't take pics after the curtain call but I guess I would have needed a much better camera to do it justice.

The sets for wicked were just amazing!

All in all we had a perfect day. Thanks to Ruthie and Katy for organising the trip and tour-guiding us and putting up with my constant stop-start photo taking!